TIME North Korea

Russia Says North Korea Is Ready to Resume Nuclear Talks

(MOSCOW) — North Korea says it’s ready to resume international talks on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Thursday as Moscow sought to raise its profile in the international standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke after meeting with Choe Ryong Hae, a special envoy for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who earlier this week gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter from Kim.

North Korea has wanted to resume talks for a long time, but the U.S. Japan and South Korea say it needs to honor its previous commitments first to shut down its nuclear programs.

Lavrov said Kim’s letter confirmed a desire to expand bilateral ties and “cooperate on settling the problems that still remain on the Korean Peninsula.”

He said Pyongyang is ready to restart the six-way nuclear talks involving both Koreas, as well as the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The negotiations on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program have broken up over Pyongyang holding nuclear and missile tests.

“Pyongyang is ready for the resumption of the six-party talks without any preconditions,” Lavrov said.

Without naming any country, Lavrov also warned against a military buildup in the region “along the bloc lines,” an apparent hint at military cooperation between Washington and Seoul.

Russia’s ties with the communist North soured after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but have improved under Putin’s watch. Moscow has previously sought to help mediate the nuclear standoff, but its diplomatic efforts have had little visible effect.

Lavrov also said Pyongyang is considering a Russian project to build a gas pipeline and a power line to South Korea via its territory.

State-controlled Russian Railways has modernized a North Korean cargo terminal and conducted a pilot project shipping Russian coal to South Korea, Lavrov said. Russia is also considering linking its Trans-Siberian railway with the Trans-Korean railway, he added.

TIME United Nations

U.N. Push Against North Korea on Rights Moves Ahead

(UNITED NATIONS) — The world’s boldest effort yet to hold North Korea and leader Kim Jong Un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity moved forward Tuesday at the United Nations, where a Pyongyang envoy threatened further nuclear tests.

The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee approved a resolution that urges the Security Council to refer the country’s harsh human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. The non-binding resolution now goes to the General Assembly for a vote in the coming weeks. China and Russia, which hold veto power on the council, voted against it.

The resolution was inspired by a groundbreaking U.N. commission of inquiry report early this year that declared North Korea’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror.”

The U.N committee has adopted similar resolutions on the North’s abysmal human rights conditions in the past. But the fact that this year’s resolution includes the new idea that their absolute leader could be targeted by prosecutors has pushed the communist country to make a more furious response as that would pose a setback to its recent efforts to improve ties with the outside world to lure foreign investment and aid and revive the country’s troubled economy. North Korean officials would also view the resolution as a potential embarrassment to their young leader who took power after the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il in late 2011.

North Korea sent a sharp warning in comments before the vote. Trying to punish it over human rights “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests,” said Choe Myong Nam, a foreign ministry adviser for U.N. and human rights issues. His colleagues gave no details on that threat.

Choe also accused the European Union and Japan, the resolution’s co-sponsors, of “subservience and sycophancy” to the United States, and he promised “unpredictable and serious consequences” if the resolution went forward.

The European Union quickly issued a statement welcoming the support of 111 countries in the vote. Nineteen countries voted against, and 55 abstained.

“It is admirable that the member states of the United Nations are acting to protect the people of North Korea when their own government fails to do so,” the head of the commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, said in an email, adding that he is confident the Security Council will “act responsibly.”

Human rights groups turned their attention to China and Russia, which could block any Security Council move. “No Security Council country, including China, can deny the horror endured by so many NorthKoreans,” Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement just after the vote. “The time has come for justice.”

North Korea and its allies have argued that a resolution that targets a single country would set a dangerous precedent and that other developing countries could be singled out, too.

The resolution says the commission of inquiry report found grounds to believe that crimes againsthumanity have been committed under policies “established at the highest level of the State for decades.” It calls for targeted sanctions against the people who appear to be most responsible. The commission of inquiry earlier warned Kim Jong Un that could include him.

Cuba proposed an amendment that would have stripped out the tough language on the ICC, but the committee’s member countries voted that down earlier Tuesday.

The mere possibility that its leader could be targeted by prosecutors has put North Korean officials, once dismissive of human rights issues, on edge. In recent weeks, it dangled the possibility of a visit by the U.N. human rights chief, among other attempts at outreach.

“The North Koreans are strongly responding to the U.N. resolution because they think it’s shaking the young leader who’s been trying to consolidate his power since inheriting power only a few years ago,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “They would think their international image has been seriously hit.”

But the North is unlikely to make good on its threat to conduct a nuclear test because the country knows such an action would invite further international condemnation. Also, there is little chance that Russia and China will let the Security Council refer the North’s human rights situation to the ICC in The Hague, analysts said.

“North Korea’s reaction will mostly be verbal. They may threaten nuclear and missile tests, but they probably won’t carry them out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

In the chamber Tuesday, a North Korean foreign ministry adviser, Kim Ju Song, was witnessed trying to get a U.N. official to eject Shin Dong-Hyuk, a young man who fled North Korea and has since spoken out against the Pyongyang regime.

The commission of inquiry report was based on interviews with dozens of people like Shin who had fled and detailed abuses including starvation and a system of harsh prison camps containing up to 120,000 people.

North Korea has accused people who cooperated with the commission of inquiry of lying, and it produced a video showing Shin’s father in North Korea condemning him.

But Shin, who bowed to Japan’s ambassador in thanks after the vote, said North Korea’s attempt to intimidate him and others backfired. “This was an overwhelming defeat,” he said.

TIME portfolio

Using Instagram to Open a Window on Everyday Life in North Korea

“My motive has always been to open a window on North Korea,” says David Guttenfelder. “There are so few images coming out of there, and yet there’s so much interest.”

A former chief photographer at Associated Press, Guttenfelder helped open the agency’s first bureau in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in January 2012. Now, after he resigned from AP to continue his career as a freelance photographer and one of National Geographic’s Photography Fellows, he’s not turning his back on the reclusive country. In September 2014, he quietly launched the Everyday DPRK Instagram account, which features pictures by North Korean residents and photographers.

“We launched Everyday DPRK because a number of photographers who have access to the country are using Instagram,” says Guttenfelder, “but most of them were not getting attention on their own.”

Six photographers, including Guttenfelder, are currently posting on the Everyday DPRK account — @drewkelly, @sunbimari, @andrea_uri, @simonkoryo, @soominee. “None of them are professional photographers,” Guttenfelder recently told Lightbox. “Some of them are avid Instagrammers. We have a university teacher, Drew Kelly. He was one of the first Instagram users in North Korea and had been quietly posting pictures of his life and the students he teaches. He offers an interesting view of the country and has a very thoughtful approach.”

Kelly first visited Pyongyang in June 2012, and he usually spends three to four months a year in the country. “I had come right out of graduate school and learned of an opportunity to teach at a university here in the capital,” he says. “I wanted to do something different, not sit around in the U.S. hoping the ‘right’ job would come along.”

When he’s not teaching English, Kelly is using Instagram to offer an “expat point-of-view” on North Korea and to show that “there are real people living, working and striving for a better life with the cards dealt to them,” he says.

Andrea Lee, another contributor to the Everyday DPRK feed, first visited North Korea in 2003. “I was part of a Korean-American delegation of women seeking peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula,” says Lee. “As an ethnic Korean having grown up in South and North America, returning to Korea generally is always a soul-searching experience for me. What I found in North Korea, looking beyond politics, was raw beauty, untouched landscapes and sincere, genuine people. The country has kept me intrigued ever since.”

Lee, now the founder of a travel company that organizes trips to North Korea, welcomed the government’s decision in January 2013 to introduce a mobile 3G Sim Card for foreign visitors. This allowed for the real-time upload of images, but also access to Facebook, Foursquare and, of course, Instagram. “Earlier this year, I was uploading photos when American wrestler Bob Sapp engaged a crowd of North Koreans on the street with arm wrestling, and when Dennis Rodman made his last visit to Pyongyang,” she says. “Through Instagram, even non-journalists can contribute to the public discussion surrounding North Korea in a more meaningful and personal way.”

Lee hopes the feed will help the world see the “humanity that exists in North Korea,” she says. It’s a sentiment Guttenfelder shares. “We want to provide a real and honest view of the country,” he says.

In curating the Everyday DPRK feed, Guttenfelder regularly asks his colleagues to send him images, which he then carefully selects before sharing on Instagram (for other Everyday feeds, all participants are able to upload their images directly to Instagram). “I wanted, at least at the beginning, to sequence the pictures,” the former AP Chief Photographer says. “North Korea is a complicated place to work from, and I wanted to help these photographers. Even though they are not professional photographers, their instinct is the same: they want to tell their stories, they want to show what’s happening there. They know there’s a strong interest, and they want to open the window on this place, just like I was always trying to do myself.”

“What better place” he asks, “to test the power of Instagram, or photography in general, than in North Korea, where there’s little independent photographic coverage?”


Follow Everyday DPRK on Instagram @EverydayDPRK.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME North Korea

Dennis Rodman Says He Helped Secure Kenneth Bae’s Release from North Korea

TOPSHOTS-NKOREA-US-BASKET-NBA-RODMAN
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman speak at a basketball game in Pyongyang on Feb. 28, 2013. KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

Because he and Kim Jong Un are such great buddies

“My dear friend for life, Marshall Kim Jong Un” begins the January 2014 letter from Dennis Rodman, in which the former NBA superstar begged the North Korean dictator to release American prisoner Kenneth Bae.

Bae was finally released Saturday after spending two years in captivity, and Rodman is claiming a major share of the credit thanks to his letter to the Supreme Leader, TMZ reports.

In the letter, Rodman writes that although he “understands the crimes [Bae] has committed,” the U.S. needs to see how loving and compassionate the North Korean leader can be.

“I ask for your mercy to prisoner Kenneth Bae and would be eternally grateful for his safe return,” because that would be “a big step towards bridging the gap between our two nations,” the basketball star concludes.

Rodman never received a reply to his letter, but told TMZ that a video released soon after he sent it that showed Bae alive and well was probably not a coincidence.

[TMZ]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Releases 2 Detained Americans

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller were held for two years and seven months, respectively

U.S. citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller have been released from North Korea, where they were detained for two years and seven months, respectively, the U.S. State Department announced Saturday.

“The safety and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad is the Department of State’s highest priority, and the United States has long called on [the Democratic People's Republic of Korea] authorities to release these individuals on humanitarian grounds,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, took part in discussions with North Korea about Bae’s and Miller’s release. Accompanied by Clapper, the two were en route back to the U.S. to be reunited with their families Saturday.

“We welcome the DPRK’s decision to release both Mr. Bae and Mr. Miller,” said Brian P. Hale, the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in a statement.

President Obama welcomed the news Saturday morning. “It’s a wonderful day for them and their families,” he said. “Obviously we are very grateful for their safe return and I appreciate director Clapper doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”

Another hostage, Jeffrey Fowle, was released from detainment on Oct. 21.

TIME North Korea

Paranoid North Korea Handles Ebola Threat by Quarantining All Foreigners

North Korea Ebola Fears
This Oct. 28, 2014, photo shows foreigners and North Koreans riding a shuttle bus to a plane bound for Beijing at the Sunan International Airport, in Pyongyang Wong Maye-E—AP

North Korea, not a friend to much of anything coming through its borders (or out of them), is certainly not keen to let Ebola in either

The U.S. media may be chock-full of news and analysis about the impending threat of Ebola, but America’s response still pales in comparison with that most hysterical of nations — North Korea.

Officials in Pyongyang have announced plans to quarantine all foreigners for 21 days over worries that the deadly virus will ravage the Hermit Nation, reports the Associated Press.

There have so far been no reported Ebola cases anywhere in Asia. North Korea is about 6,800 miles from the nearest Ebola case — in Dallas, Texas — and it has no direct flights to any country that has seen Ebola on its soil.

North Korea as a rule does not welcome lots of tourists, and those few tourists do not get to fraternize — much less exchange bodily fluids, as would be necessary for transmission of Ebola — with North Korea’s beleaguered population.

These days, the nation is accepting no tourists at all, since Pyongyang officials last week put all tourist visas on hold in a bid to keep the virus out, the Associated Press earlier reported.

Yet the announcement distributed Thursday about the quarantine indicates that Pyongyang is still very worried indeed about Ebola, says the Associated Press, which has a bureau in the North Korean capital. The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

The staff of diplomatic missions and international organizations will apparently be permitted to stay in their homes for the mandated bout of agoraphobia. The fate of other foreigners is less clear: visitors from countries affected by the virus will be quarantined “at one set of locations,” while travelers from unaffected countries will be sent to “other locations, including hotels.”

It is also unclear if people in North Korea on short stays, like on brief business trips, will be forced to remain in the country for a full 21 days.

North Korea’s apparent distance from the disease also did not stop Pyongyang from earlier this week outfitting the two people it sent to meet a visiting high-level delegation from Japan in full hazmat gear.

Almost 5,000 people have died worldwide in the current Ebola outbreak, almost all in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

[AP]

TIME North Korea

Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Disappearance May Be Solved

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a military drill between KPA Large Combined Unit 526 and KPA Combined Unit 478
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military drill at an undisclosed location in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyangon Oct. 24, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

The North Korean leader was reported to have surgery

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apparently underwent ankle surgery in either September or October, according to a report Tuesday, which may finally explain his recent six-week disappearance.

Kim wasn’t seen in public between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14, the Associated Press reports, an unusually long absence that led many outside the reclusive country to speculate whether he was sick or had even been thrown from power. When Kim finally returned to public view, he appeared to have lost weight and was using a cane.

South Korea’s intelligence agency reportedly learned of the leader’s surgery — a foreign doctor was said to have removed a cyst from Kim’s right ankle and warned it could return due to his weight, busy schedule and smoking habit — and told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting.

[AP]

Read next: A Former Doctor to North Korea’s Founder Thinks He Passed on Health Problems to Kim Jong Un

TIME fun

Feel Good Friday: 15 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

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TIME North Korea

North Korea Reportedly Barring Foreign Tourists Over Ebola Fears

NKOREA-SKOREA-WAR-ARMISTICE-ANNIVERSARY
In a photo taken on July 24, 2013 a North Korean airport staff member carries umbrellas before an Air Koryo aircraft in Pyongyang. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

It’s not clear if the ban applies to foreign diplomats or business travelers.

North Korea tour operators say the country plans to close its borders to all foreign tourists over fears of Ebola.

North Korean state media indicated that the country was boosting quarantine measures for foreign visitors, according to Reuters, but tour operators like China-based Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours say North Korea is establishing a temporary ban on foreign tourists effective Friday.

It’s not clear if the ban applies to foreign diplomats or business travelers, but the New York Times reports that the Beijing office of North Korea’s state airline said flights to the capital were not canceled.

At least 4,877 people, mostly in Western Africa, have died amid the worst Ebola outbreak on record. While some countries have forbidden travelers from the most affected areas, no country has banned all foreign tourists.

Some 6,000 Western tourists visit North Korea annually, according to NK News, a U.S.-based site that tracks North Korea.

TIME South Korea

South Korea Dismantles ‘Propaganda’ Christmas Tree Tower

A giant steel Christmas tree lit up at the western mountain peak known as Aegibong in Gimpo, South Korea on Dec. 21, 2010.
A giant steel Christmas tree lit up at the western mountain peak known as Aegibong in Gimpo, South Korea on Dec. 21, 2010. Lee Jin-man—AP

North Korea, which is officially atheist, had long seen the tower as religious propaganda

A South Korean Christmas tree tower that shone near the border of North Korea has been taken down, about a week after officials from the two countries convened for the first time since 2007.

The tower, which stood approximately 2 miles from the North Korean line, was first mounted in 1971, the BBC reports. The North Korean government, which is officially atheist, had long seen the tree as religious propaganda, because South Koreans often lit the tree up during the Christmas season and mounted a cross at its peak.

South Korea stopped lighting the tower in 2004 as relations between the North and South improved, the Guardian reports. In 2010 and 2012, however Christian groups again lit the tree tower in the wake of attacks that killed 50 South Koreans.

South Korean officials, however, said the tree was not taken down to reconcile differences between North and South Korea, but rather as a precaution because it could collapse.

[BBC]

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